It’s the latest signal that Apple may be paying more attention to podcasts, a medium that it continues to hold outsized sway over with Apple Podcasts controlling roughly 60% of listening. After years of essentially listing the same shows on its “What’s Hot” and “New & Noteworthy” tallies, the two features have sprung back to life. Shows that now have a shot at appearing on the two lists could usher in scores of new listeners.
The return of the “What’s Hot” and “New & Noteworthy” listings was first noticed by Kate Erickson, the content creator for the Entrepreneurs On Fire podcast. She shared her discovery with the industry in a blog post announcing the two sections are “alive and well again.”
Why the Apple Podcast section stopped offering recommendations to its millions of users was never entirely clear. The company never disclosed what was happening and that led to various theories, none of which were ever confirmed. Apple’s notorious tight-lipped policy has also kept the mystery around how a show turns up on either the “What’s Hot” or “New & Noteworthy” lists. But podcasters have been able to deduce some of what goes into the algorithms selecting the shows. That includes elements such as how many downloads have occurred during a 24-hour period, how many subscribers a podcast has, and what the ratings and reviews for a show are. There also seems to be a benefit to having numbers tick higher over time, suggesting a show has momentum. There are likely other factors too, but Apple remains mum.
Regardless of what’s baked into the algorithm, Erickson says having Apple Podcasts offering show recommendations is good for the industry. “With the number of podcasts being published having sky-rocketed since 2012, it’s important to have a place where podcast listeners can easily find highly-rated podcasts that are right for them,” she writes in her post.
Even as Apple Podcasts have enjoyed the bulk of listening in the U.S., a lot of podcasters have felt the company has viewed its success in the medium as an afterthought. But with content distribution services playing a bigger role in Apple’s future, there’s growing speculation Apple Podcasts may get a standalone app outside of iTunes. If it does, the news could come at next week’s 2019 Worldwide Developers Conference on June 3-7 in San Jose where Apple is expected to release its newest version of iOS (10.15).
Apple last month made some improvements to its iTunes Podcast web browser. It now features a refreshed interface, alongside some additional features. Before, the preview destination offered a list of podcast episodes for a particular series, while users then had to access iTunes to play a show. Now, as it has done for its movie and TV show landing pages, the new design offers support for playback and individual episode details. Apple still encourages a user to listen in iTunes, but that is no longer mandated.
The dominant position that Apple Podcasts holds is under threat like never before with a growing number of places for listeners to find shows, often times on the music streaming apps they are already using like iHeartRadio, which last week said it now has more than a quarter million podcasts.
Spotify is investing $500 million in podcasting and by some estimates it has captured a 10% share of podcast consumption. But Google too has also showed a renewed interest in podcasting, saying it wants to double worldwide podcast listening by introducing Android users who haven’t listened to podcasts.